Ben Stoll profile

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Ben Stoll

Royal Holloway University of London (2023)


Professor John Hill


Revisiting Race and Thatcherism: the Second Life of the 1980-85 Uprisings on Screen


My project will be the first comprehensive analysis and evaluation of the recent deluge of audiovisual interest in the 1980-85 uprisings in Brixton, Toxteth and Handsworth. During these dramatic flashpoints, young people from urban Black and ethnic minority communities fought with police, set buildings and cars alight, and ransacked businesses. Originally labelled as ‘riots’ by the British press, I argue that there has been a renewed effort by filmmakers, programmers and exhibition curators in recent years to reframe the unrest as a Black rebellion against institutionalised racism and police brutality. To understand this new trend I will consider both newly-produced moving image media, including British television programmes such as Steve McQueen’s ‘Small Axe’ (2020), as well as older films about the uprisings that have been re-screened in recent years, including in art exhibitions and film festivals.

My project will have three key outcomes. First, I will analyse the innovative forms and themes of the texts themselves, examining how they repurpose archival material to make an artistically significant contribution to British film and television, rewriting the history of Thatcherism with race at its centre. Second, by interviewing those involved in the commissioning and production of these audiovisual materials and exhibitions, I will unpick both the influence of institutional power and of the social, economic and political climate in the last decade. Finally, I will evaluate the ongoing ethical and political impact of the trenchant critique of Thatcherism made by these audiovisual texts; by refusing to relegate race to the margins of Thatcher’s decade, they challenge how we understand neoliberalism today. And by writing about this, I too hope to place race and the uprisings in its rightful place at the centre of modern British history and at the forefront of the British film, television and art worlds.